CEE at Illinois: Tackling Society’s Most Complex Challenges

The world grows more complicated every day—
aging infrastructure climate change
natural and human-made disasters the need for clean water in the developing
world the search for alternative energy sources Today’s civil and environmental engineer
has to be prepared to practice in this increasingly complex environment and find optimal, sustainable
solutions to society’s problems. Complicated challenges can’t be addressed
by engineers working alone. They require cross-disciplinary approaches that draw from engineering, other
physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities.
At Illinois, we are pioneering this approach with three new cross-disciplinary programs:
Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems, creating novel approaches to smart, adaptive
and green interconnected infrastructure. Energy-Water-Environment Sustainability, focusing
on sustainable solutions for the exploration, production, delivery and use of energy and
their intersection with water and the environment. Societal Risk Management, focusing on helping
society manage risks from multiple hazards. For our MS and PhD students, these programs
offer more flexibility in choosing coursework according to a student’s interests and career
goals, as well as new opportunities for cross-cutting research in emerging areas.
My research focuses on using text mining of news articles to monitor sustainability indicators
so municipalities can gather the most current information on the impact of their green initiatives.
I create computer simulations of fluid flowing underground, which will improve our understanding
of the effects of CO2 sequestration on the environment.
We’re developing a framework for using nondestructive testing to predict the performance of deteriorating
concrete bridge columns. Undergrads who opt for a cross-disciplinary
program still choose two areas of concentration, one cross-disciplinary and one traditional.
My primary is in Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems, my secondary is in
transportation and I’m earning a minor in urban planning. I want to look at how we can
design urban centers better so that they’re more sustainable and use fewer resources.
We’re developing the t-shaped engineer—someone with a deep base of knowledge in one of the
traditional areas, topped with a broad understanding of the system as a whole.
The optional Global Leaders program gives students experience working on projects in
an international environment. This year I led a group of students on a trip to India.
Going to India was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My team is working on improving the design
of a wastewater treatment facility there. This class and the trip to India have taught
me that we really need to consider the social implications and resilience of a design in
order to achieve a truly sustainable product. Our researchers are collaborating across technical
borders as never before. Can flying robots help collect traffic data
and understand climate change? Can social media data help us respond more
quickly and effectively to disasters? Can we recover energy and other valuable resources
from waste materials? Can we improve infrastructure resilience by
mimicking nature’s ability to adapt and regenerate?
Can we create water and sanitation solutions for the developing world?
CEE at Illinois is transforming the educational experience for our students,
giving them a systems-level perspective and real-world experience
addressing society’s most complex problems to find sustainable solutions
to develop engineering innovations to improve quality of life
for people here and around the world. We are redefining the Illinois educational
experience and uniquely branding our students as not only good engineers with rigorous training
and problem-solving skills, but also as thinkers, integrators, communicators, cultural and technical
translators—and therefore leaders.

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